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It seems that today's world has gone mad in consumerism and materialism. Parents give their kids presents on all kinds of occasions where presents didn't use to be given, like random holidays throughout the year, and name days, and half-birthdays, school-end and school-start, and so on. Stores sell Christmas candy and decorations in September! After that, it's not even New Year yet and the stores are gearing up for Easter.

I don't know what's gone wrong, but it just seems wrong to me to show kids that they can have lots of things they wish for, for no special reason. When I was a kid, I got birthday presents and Christmas presents. End of story.

I don't want to be that kind of parent, but I am surrounded by other parents who think it's fine. This will likely cause some friction when my child feels cheated out of presents that other kids get.

In what ways can I teach my child that he cannot "demand" gifts? I want to teach the idea that getting gifts is not a right. Gifts are only for very special occasions and for showing appreciation.

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I would suggest that you rephrase your question to something like "how do I teach my child not to be greedy". It seems like your concern is commercialism. –  nGinius Nov 17 '11 at 4:55
    
@nGinius that's a good observation. Let me see if I can reword it a bit. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 17 '11 at 6:40
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Loosely related question: parenting.stackexchange.com/q/6649/2876 having to do with inequities in gift pile sizes at Christmas –  balanced mama Nov 28 '13 at 2:20
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6 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted
+100

Show them how to have fun without gifts/stuff

What did I enjoy most when I was a child? Going camping: making fires and climbing trees. At home it was Lego, or those wooden railways. My sister and I would make a layout and then play make believe games with the little people. p.s. I am only 18, so it's not like this harks back to another time, this is possible now with the right attitude.

Also, Don't tolerate greediness

Chastise your children for wanting gifts. It is a bad trait, although it is NOT their fault. Do not say that they are bad, just say that they shouldn't expect such things and let them find or show them something else fun to do.

People want things for a reason, most often boredom, but also social acceptance (everyone else has it). I think limited 'everyone else has it' cases should be tolerated, but if you can find other activities that are fun then they will be too busy to bother about stuff.

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Excellent answer! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 20 '11 at 8:11
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Personally, I find giving presents on "special days" is over rated. People response better to random acts of gift giving and reward based gifts. If it was me, I'd just leave gifts on special days to grandparents.

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I think that as with many things, it is always important to explain to your child that different families do things differently and the way we do things is that gifts are for special occasions... It is important to help your child find ways to have intrinsic value for many of the occasions I see parents giving presents for. In the case of things like school start or end, talk about what the value of that occurrence is. I have not heard about name days and half birthdays, thankfully, but firmly agree with you there there is far to much value placed on extrinsic motivations in the form of gifts for so many things that consumerism is rampant! In closing, it is always important to teach your child your values and stick to your guns - it is good to be different and kids need to understand that to be empowered to be individuals as they grow up.

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The simple answer to your question is to only give and allow gifts to be given on special occasions.

However, there is a reason we give gifts: it strengthens our relationships (this link is interesting commentary on the subject). There is much pleasure to be gained in the giving, probably more than in the receiving. Why would we want to restrict spreading happiness?

I would suggest that instead of focusing on the why or when, focus on the what and the how. Encouraging your children to give thoughtful gifts for any reason whatsoever will strengthen their generosity rather than their greed because it feels so good to cause other people's happiness.

Restrict the budget for gifts so that your child needs to use their creativity and ingenuity for those special occasions. Limit "things" in general. One of the parents I know asked that we restrict our gifts and made it known that there would not be lootbags etc. at the party. We were just going to have fun together.

When they do receive gifts, especially homemade ones, be sure to comment on the thought and consideration that must have gone into it. Value handmade gifts over ones that are purchased and explain why they are more special to you. This will help counteract thoughtless consumerism, which seems to be your major concern and teach them to be gracious recipients.

A last thought from the link above:

"If I don't let you give me a gift, then I'm not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities. You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving."

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I like this approach a lot! It emphasizes good aspects and offers ways to avoid "things." –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 17 '11 at 18:58
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While we do give gifts on Christmas and birthdays, the other times we give gifts is as a reward, or a thank you or sometimes just to surprise someone. Our activity is picked up by the children, so sometimes they will make a small present to give to a friend, or to one of us, for no apparent reason.

We encourage this, and it helps them in understanding that they should never expect a present, but when one is given it is a pleasant surprise.

The occasional times they 'demand' a present because their friends are getting one etc., they get a very definite no. They can pay for it out of their pocket money if it is that important.

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It seems to me, your concern is more about consumerism and too much "stuff" more than it is about gifts and gift giving itself. I have to say, I've seen kids get piles and piles of gifts on special occasions to the point that they still don't appreciate the gifts they've been given. On the other side of the coin, there are times you see something that would be perfect for someone you love but there is no special occasion coming anytime soon and surprising someone you love with a gift "just because" is a loving thing to do and can show you were thinking of them - so I don't think discouraging those moments is a bad thing.

Instead, consider focusing on the "stuff" being minimized rather than the idea of gifts themselves being minimized. Here are the things we do in my immediate family to help reduce the consumerism here. Teaching a lack of greediness also means teaching appreciation for what you do have. We approach this life lesson from a multitude of angles and so far it is working quite well.

  • Talk about it, talk about it again, share your ideas. Demonstrate appreciation and consideration for what you have and gratitude for gifts you are given. In other words, be a good role-model.
  • At around four, we started giving Alice a little spending money now and again. Particularly for when we are attending something like a carnival, fair, or taking a trip so she can get a souvenier. She makes her own decisions how to spend that money and we let her make mistakes with it. In other words, we have let her buy C*@p with it that we knew she'd be unhappy with in an hour. Then, when she wants the next thing, but no longer has the spending money, she learns why she needs to think through purchases more fully.
  • We don't watch a lot of TV and when we do watch, we minimize commercial viewing - a lot of what they want is only wanted because commercials tell them they want it. Once she was five, I started her with Radio commercials - particularly one about Disneyland discussing how the advert was designed to make her think she'd be happy if she got to go there. We talked about how she hadn't even thought about it before she heard the ad. . . We analyze increasingly complex advertisements this way as she gets older. Sometimes, we decide the thing being advertise would be a good thing to save up for, most of the time, she realizes it probably would just be more stuff.
  • We only do birthday parties with a group on the "odd years." On the "even years" - two, four, six . . . she chooses a fun experience and invites one friend to join us and gives that friend a cool experience (at age six we attended a "children's theater" in the park where we hunted for fairies and trolls through the public park and forest land near the city). This teachers that often, it is the memory of how we spend time that is longer lasting than things usually are and she gets less "stuff" as gifts from friends along the way.
  • At Christmas she gets one gift from Santa and one gift from Mom and Dad together. Other gifts also come from extended family members, but that is all she gets directly from us. Although it is a special occasion, it is supposed to be about the giving not the getting.
  • We make sure she is involved in picking out gifts for us for special occasions. She makes the cards, wraps the gifts etc. While shopping for gifts with her, we have helped guide her choices by asking things like, "Now why would that be a good gift for Daddy?" or "What makes you think Daddy would enjoy that? - Because dolls are cool? Yes, they are cool, but does Daddy enjoy playing with them or would that be a better gift for you someday?" (You get the idea). Sometimes we even help her to make a gift rather than buy one.
  • We participate by volunteering and giving to those in need - which helps remind her there are others that have less or are less fortunate than we are.
  • When her drawers and shelves are full - we are full up, bringing in new items means having to get rid of something else by giving it to someone else (which can include donating to good will -etc.) Rarely are things in such bad shape they just have to be tossed.
  • Taking care of what she already has is of utmost importance. No gifts for any reason are offered to people that don't apprciate and care for what they already have. Items broken due to carelessness (within reason developmentally of course) are not replaced without a lot of "earning it back" on her part first.
  • Rarely do we buy anything on a whim. We might see something and say, "that would be nice to have" but I insist she waits a week or so to decide 95% of the time. Most of the time she decides she doesn't need the thing - sometimes she figures out a way to save up for it - and sometimes, if she's been being really great, we'll go halvsies with her for something we know will be really special and be something she will enjoy for awhile.
  • We have discussed the environmental importance of not just recycling and re-using, but also the most important concept of "reducing." in the first place.
  • When comparing to other families, my attitude has been, "Daddy and I feel less is often more. Stuff weighs us down often and is just more stuff to store and take care of. We feel it is more important to give you the gift of appreciating quality experiences and a few quality things rather than heaping a mountain of toys on you that will break and be done soon anyway. It is our job to teach you what we feel is right - even through gifts. Their parents don't have the same priority we do so their experience is different and that is okay. Think about all the things we do together instead." That has worked with Alice.
  • If she ever demanded anything, that automatically meant an emphatic "NO!." Even if she said she wanted some sort of food in a demanding way, she got a "No" but was given her least favorite kind of food (that was available) just a few minutes later just in case she was hungry. Bad manners should absolutely mean you do not get what you want.

All of these things have worked so well, that often she'll even tell people at fast food places, "no. I really don't want the kids meal - I don't need the toy and I won't play with it. I'd rather have, (whatever it is) and I'll share a lemonade with mom." Additionally, last Christmas (although she was playing a little game with us for that one), last Easter and her most recent birthday her list of wants has been fairly short and quite reasonable (well, again - except last Christmas when her wish list was dog and a younger sibling). I asked her about her wish list for this Christmas and so far I've gotten, "I don't know mom. I'm pretty happy with things - I'll have to think about it."

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Truly, truly an amazing answer. –  Constanta Feb 24 at 16:12
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